DR. WHO: THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH – SHAVE AND A HAIR CUT…………….???

 

SHORT TAKE:

Disappointing, lackluster reboot of Dr. Who into the first female incarnation of the main character, in a plot that is a routine set up without any real payoff.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone CAN go see this DR. WHO, but…(to use a different interrogative pronoun)…WHY?

LONG TAKE:

I went with an open mind, I really did. After all, I was pleasantly shocked to discover that, contrary to my long held opinion, a good superhero could be made featuring a woman when Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot knocked the socks off me with her powerful but feminine portrait of a righteously heroic super woman.

So it was with high hopes that I went to go see the premiere of the very first show featuring the very first woman Dr Who – that is with the exception of The Curse of Fatal Death, the parody filmed for the charity Comic Relief with Rowen Atkinson who ultimately morphs into Joanne Lumley in 1999.

If you like the cheap waxy chocolate in your Easter basket; if you make your milkshakes out of fat free ice milk; if you prefer plain unsweetened rice cakes for breakfast; if your refreshment of choice is a clear sugar free diet soda (why don't you just drink water?); if your musical taste runs to the elevator music version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" — then this is the Dr Who for you. All promise and little delivery.

SPOILERS

To start with, the pronouns present a challenge, but let’s do this – if I’m referring to Jody Whittaker’s Dr Who it seems fair to use the feminine. BUT if I refer to any previous incarnation, then the masculine grammatical reference should apply.

For those of you NOT familiar with Dr Who, please refer to my previous blog on Dr Who: Twice Upon a Time, which gives a quick "cheat sheet" introduction to the Whovian Universe.

For those of you already familiar with Dr Who, the premise of The Woman Who Fell to Earth, is that the first female Doctor (literally) falls to Earth – and physically – through a train roof, just as the passengers are being terrorized by an energy ball of tentacles. Companions happen upon her and follow like dust motes in the wake of a guppy and they decide to figure out what it is and its connection to another alien with teeth imbedded in its face. Meanwhile, an entire more interesting and better acted subplot involving a missing girl and her murdered brother are brushed aside like so much flotsam and the story drags to a conclusion with manufactured tension and a lead who can not even smile convincingly.

None of this is remotely quality Who.

Even the beginning flies in the face of the basic mechanics of the Who-verse. Everyone knows or suspects strongly that Dr. Who’s TARDIS gets him/her to where they are most needed. From the get go, as explained by Whittaker's Who, the TARDIS was wounded and dematerialized leaving the new Who to the tender ministrations of gravity. So Who's propitious appearance at the train to save the passengers seems more like coincidence than it should.

Next, while the Doctor has shown himself to be physically resilient, and crashing bodily into Earth like a thrown bowling ball is not necessarily the most injurious event he has ever survived, to fall to Earth from near outer space and crash THROUGH a train roof without so much as mussed hair is a bit much for even my considerable suspension of disbelief. 

Tennant, having burst through a skylight in The End of Time Part II looks like he's been on the wrong side of a blender.

And her adaptability to her new body misses SO much. Tennant noticed new teeth immediately before collapsing from the regeneration effort. Matt Smith examined his whole body in a humorous frenzy even as the TARDIS was exploding around him: "Legs! I've still got legs! Good. Arms. Hands. Oo! Fingers. Lots of fingers. Ears. Yes. Eyes two. Nose. I've had worse. Chin. [Noting its size]  Blimey. Hair. [presciently] I’m a girl. [feels Adam’s apple] No no. I’m not a girl. [Pulling a lock of hair forward to look at it, grumps] And still not ginger." When River Song morphed from young black teen to middle aged but shapely white woman we got more brilliant acting with Alex Kingston as she admires her own new hair then hollars from the bathroom: "Oh, that’s magnificent! I’m gonna wear lots of jodhpurs!" 

Jody Whittaker's Dr. Who's only comment is "Brilliant" and we're not even sure she's reacting to her new gender. Granted this is a flaw in the writing, but there's no indication from her acting or movements that she is: awed, amazed, dismayed, confused, curious, intrigued, or turned on by the fact that for the first time she is whole new GENDER! When in the past your previous selves have been surprised and dazzled by hair color and teeth size, and another Time Lord by the size of her own booty, you'd THINK a change in your entire sex would merit SOME attention. Even the spoof skit showed Lumley impressed with her new found…upgrades. In The Woman Who Fell to Earth her responses COULD have been tastefully done and REALLY funny. But it was like "Shave and a hair cut…………….." WHERE was the overwhelm? Where was the curiosity?

And her acting is – to put it kindly – bland. To NOT be so kind, she demonstrates all the emoting variations of an indulgent second grade school teacher.

Don't believe me? Let's take a trip down memory lane:

Tennant:

Smith:

Eccleston:  

Hurt:

Capaldi:

Now here's the new Dr Who: Her busy face,  her studious face  her surprised face. Is she afraid to move her eyebrows? Or show any genuine enthusiasm? Or risk looking silly?

Where is the humor? Where is the childlike enthusiasm to which we can all relate? And while, again, this is largely the fault of the script, it's not even that the show takes itself too seriously. I've often told our kids – it's not necessarily WHAT you say, but HOW you say it that makes all the difference. And I can't help but nostalgically wonder how a previous doctor (pick one – ANY one) would have done the reading on these same fairly uninspired lines and what desperately needed, resuscitating life they might have given them.

The writing is mundane and pedestrian. The trailer even features a good example: "I'm The Doctor. When people need help I never refuse." This is not only lazy writing but it is said with all the conviction of a PSA.

There's a scene where she jumps dramatically and dangerously (in Capaldi's slippery ill-fitting dress shoes) from one crane to another about 15 stories off the ground, then simply talks and tosses something to the bad guy to win the day. It would have been far more interesting if she had realized she did not have the upper body strength in the female body she now has, admitted that and worked around it. Realistically she could have done exactly what she ended up doing – talking and tossing – only without the death defying leap. This is just manufactured suspense.

Even the title is not particularly creative, merely a take on an old David Bowie sci fi vehicle The MAN Who Fell to Earth. There's no connection except the paraphrase.

Her companions are ginned up from what looks like the politically correct pool of the week: an elderly white man, married to a caricature of the pushy black woman, with a black teen grandson and a young woman whose last name is Khan who used to be a classmate of the grandson. They are all intimately related to each other yet we are to believe it is all coincidence. It was so unlikely a group of connections that I thought, surely the links must be part of the plot twist. But no, again just lazy writing to avoid having to introduce these characters to each other and endure the arduous task of creatively writing ways and events for them to get to know each other. Yet none of them has any real chemistry with either each other or the Doctor. And when one of them dies…..

SORRY – SPOILER – BUT HONESTLY, "WHO" CARES?

…….I wanted to feel badly about it but the show gave us little emotional investment to spend.

The direction was unremarkable but adequate – sort of like a high end shampoo commercial.

There is no vision. There was no rhyme or reason. Dr. Who started out over a half century ago as Britain's answer to Mr. Wizard – a science show which presented interesting facts in an entertaining way. It has – up to now – held to the tradition of teaching …. something: how to treat your fellow sentient creature, clever ways to solve puzzles, return evil with kindness, self sacrifice to protect the innocent, theories on effects of time travel, how other creatures from entirely different perspectives might react to the human culture, simply – thou shalt not kill. But I got the impression Mr. Chibnall, the show's new writer, has not yet gotten the memo on this one. He wrote a couple of the mini-shorts "The Power of Three" and "Pond Life" as well as some pretty decent other shows: 42, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, Cold Blood/Hungry Earth. But being able to pick up a basket of pecans does not mean you have the strength to carry the entire TREE. And carrying a FOREST is what shouldering the work of creatively moving forward with this formerly imaginative show, with more than 50 years of history and backstory demands from WHOever thinks they can captain this ship. Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat or Russell T. Davies, Chibnall is not.

There IS a lot of running, some red herring puzzles and a so-so denoument with forced tension and nothing to learn in the end. We don't even really find out what happens to the person she set out to save. And when the survivor moves in self-defense she chides him: "You shouldn't have done that." We go to an awkward visual cut to somewhere else on the soundstage and that's the last we ever see of him. Huh?

She preposterously builds a new sonic screwdriver out of dust, gizmos and a bag of metal coffee spoons lying around a cluttered human workshop. It might have been vaguely believable if she had used the tech that WAS potentially available from a discarded space "eggshell" but even that McGuffin wasn't utilized. If they are THAT easy to make why doesn't she make LOTS of them? Hand them out like party favors to her companions?

And to top everything else off they went out of their way to dis Christianity. Mostly, Dr Who, like Star Trek, leaves religion alone. But when one of their crew dies, the funeral is held in a church, but the cross beam of the cross behind the altar area is deliberately covered by carefully placed…balloons! Balloons? At a FUNERAL? And why HAVE the funeral in a Christian church if you are going to cover up the primary symbol of that institution unless you: A. Want to go out of your way to thumb your nose at the Christian faith, or B. You don't want to be bothered to think of any place else and you're too cheap to actually take the cross down. So disrespectful or indolent, take your pick.

And the death was stupid ANYway. The character threw themself into a dangerous situation unnecessarily then died clumsily. The death served no real purpose other than to cut the number of companions from four to three. "Thrift, Horatio, thrift." Fewer paychecks I suppose.

There are a zillion other dumb plot decisions: did she really wear that manky suit to the funeral? She doesn't even TRY to negotiate for the captured sister that one of the subplot characters died horribly trying to find. Since when does a Time Lord stick their finger up their nose to determine when they are going to faint? Did Chibnall think this was funny? Why on Earth would someone touch a glowing grid that appears out of nowhere? How DID he get his bike out of the tree? Did she not even CONSIDER her "friends" might be sucked into space with her using her jury rigged spit and bailing wire transporter? Why would she run on a wet crane in slippery dress shoes a couple sizes too big when she could have at least taken them off? What are the chances ALL the companions, randomly found, knew each other already without that fact being a plot point?

It all felt  – as though you were given Peter Davison's celery stalk with no dressing as your entire dinner or you were expected to warm yourself with only a bit of fringe off of Tom Baker's scarf – underdone, incomplete, ill-thought out, unfulfilling and unfinished (kind of like the way we all felt about the actor Christopher Eccleston's career as Dr. Who after he refused to be in the 50th Anniversary Special for no particularly good reason). So watching this Dr. Who I now know how Roger Rabbit felt when Judge Doom knocked on the wall and "inquired": "Shave and a hair cut," and he wasn't allowed to yell "TWO-BITS!"

So finally we are left with yet another interrogative pronoun and a burning question: WHERE is the real Dr. Who?! And will SOMEONE please say "TWO-BITS!"

DR WHO: TWICE UPON A TIME – NEWBIES CAN’T TELL THE PLAYERS WITHOUT THIS SCORECARD

SHORT TAKE:

Peter Capaldi’s exit from the Dr Who Universe is, honestly, a weakish episode. Twice Upon a Time, will be extremely confusing for the "uninitiated"  BUT does have lovely resolutions for the conundrum involving the Captain and the extra twists for both the Captain and the Doctor’s regenerations.

LONG TAKE:

The first part of this blog is for those not familiar with Dr Who. The second contains SPOILERS for Twice Upon a Time.

My husband, a friend and I all went to go see the latest Doctor Who Christmas special shown as a Fathom event at our local theater. The enthusiasm with which our friend accepted the invite led me to believe he was a fan. I sat and saved seats as my husband waited for our friend in the lobby. But as my husband sat down on one side of me and my friend on the other and the credits began to herald the beginning of the show, my husband leaned over and said our friend had never seen a Doctor Who episode before. Horrified I turned to our friend and was struck speechless with the idea of trying to condense 50 years of Doctor Who into two or three sentences.

To make matters worse it was not a standalone show as some are, but was a complex story heavily dependent upon knowledge of the background history.

The premise of Twice Upon a Time is that Peter Capaldi, 12th doctor, on the verge of regenerating to the 13th, meets himself just before his FIRST regeneration. The original doctor was played by William Hartnell who passed away long ago and is currently played by David Bradley (who was most famously known as the castle caretaker Filtch in the Harry Potter series). In the process of coming to terms with their own version of mortality, the Doctors are both reluctant to regenerate. This hesitation causes a temporal fracture and time to freeze in place resulting in a very puzzled British Captain (Mark Gatiss)    being thrown out of his own time line just as he is about to be killed in a confrontation with a German during World War I. The three, the two versions of The Doctor and the beleaguered Captain, end up stranded together in a – literally – frozen landscape.

Both Doctors must find the resolve to move on as well as face the reality of having to return a very likeable and honorable human to his moment of death.

It occurred to me that not everyone is familiar with Dr Who. Amazing but true. So I offer a dozen points to get you started.

1. There are two distinct versions of Doctor Who: the original and the reboot.

The original Doctor Who started life in 1963 as the British version of Mr. Wizard, but who travels time and space to explore and teach. The special effects were cheesier than the original Star TrekDr Who was rebooted in 2005 with a bigger budget, better effects, more natural acting and a less self-conscious sense of humor.

2. When the original Doctor Who, William Hartnell, started having trouble remembering his lines due to age and illness, someone came up with the most brilliant marketing device since product placement. When an actor can’t or doesn’t want to continue they have Dr Who become mortally ill or injured and instead of dying, regenerate into an entirely different body. Same memories but different personality. This periodically reboots and updates the entire show.

3. A WARNING: Unlike the original show the reboot occasionally gets Captain Planet on you, advocating a certain environmental activism or even occasionally includes lifestyles of some of its side characters completely inappropriate to a show which was originally targeted to a younger audience.

4. There are a few terms you should know:

Time Lord – the name of the species of which the Doctor is a member.

TARDIS – Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It is essentially a sentient time and space ship which can move to any time – past, present, or future- and any place in space and sometimes even outside of the universe. It masquerades as a blue British 1960s telephone box and is both the Doctor’s vehicle and companion.

Sonic screwdriver – it’s a gizmo which sometimes acts as a "Deus ex Machina" to get him out of trouble – opening unopenable doors, emitting high shrieks which deter monsters, deactivating bombs, etc.

5. The doctor is a kind of combination Superman, MacGyver (the government agent who could make any needed device while on assignment out of the most mundane items) and Bill Nye the Science Guy – only Doctor Who needs gizmos to have the abilities that Superman was born with.

6. Dr Who travels the universe landing in places of crisis to fix whatever is wrong. This is likely why he is often referred to as The Doctor. He does his best to heal people, situations and places. While he's not always successful he is brave, kind, resolute, occasionally condescending, often snarky, generous, willing to self sacrifice unto death for even strangers, and always always clever.

7. Each of the doctors has a token expression and/or dress item. For example Peter Davison’s Dr Who inexplicably liked to wear a stalk of celery on his jacket lapel. Tom Baker was known for his big floppy hat and scarf. Christopher Eccleston, the first of the reboot doctors, wore a leather jacket and liked to say "fantastic". David Tennant wore a duster and was fond of the expression allons-y. Matt Smith’s Doctor thought bow ties were "cool" and exclaimed Geronimo frequently. Peter Capaldi experimented with an electric guitar, dressed like an old fashioned magician and frequently made fun of his own bushy eyebrows.

8. The doctor travels with companions who come and go. They're almost always completely platonic. There are some especially notable companions:

Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) – the only military man Doctor Who ever fully respected, called a friend, or would salute.

Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) was the favorite companion of the reboot.

  Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Slaydon) was the favorite companion of the original series. The actress as well as the character made an appearance for one last show in the reboot during Tennant’s tenure not long before she passed away of cancer.

River Song (Alex Kingston) was Dr Who’s wife, his intimate and lived backwards – he met her at the end of her life and she met him chronologically near the end of her own. A bit confusing but when you consider they are BOTH time travelers…….

9. Does not like and often refuses to use a gun – but when he does it is usually pretty dramatic. He is or tries to be a pacifist although he is sometimes also known as the War Doctor and a destroyer of worlds. He tries to be peaceful because he knows of what he is capable. This helps make him an extremely interesting and complex character to follow

10. He travels through time and space to right wrongs, help people, mend broken things, resolve disputes, save lives, and solve puzzles. It’s tough to tell if he navigates the TARDIS and lucks into problems along the way or if the TARDIS guides him to where she thinks he will do the most good.

11. The doctor has had a number of enemies. A few tend to repeat. The two most notable are the Daleks and the Cybermen. Each in their own way were originally human-like but managed to cut themselves off from their own Humanity in an effort to achieve an inhuman kind of perfection

12. His home planet is Gallifrey and is… Missing

 

SPOILERS FOR TWICE UPON A TIME

While I very much liked the resolution for the Captain and the twist in the end revealing of whom he was the grandfather, the build up had holes. For one thing, if Bill is to return as one of the last people to whom this Dr Who says goodbye, the only reason I can think would entitle her to this special place of honor is that she was one of the companions who died in his service. However, so did Clara – who they also brought back in a very quick cameo – and both Ponds, and, to be fair, so is Adric from Peter Davison’s 5th doctor, and so was River Song – in my book the best companion – the only companion who was the Doctor’s equal, not to mention his wife. I sorely missed seeing River in this show, especially given Capaldi was shown in The Husbands of River Song, to be the last version she knew.

The template for the glass woman was poorly chosen. She looked so much like Bill that I thought that was going to be the big reveal – that somehow Bill was now living in the future.

When they united Tennant, and Smith’s Dr Whos with John Hurt’s in The Day of the Doctor as The War Doctor they all had good chemistry – riffing off of each others eccentricities with the chronologically "younger" Hurt being the more mature and showing up the child-like mannerisms of the other two. The three were funny and worked well together.

In this recent Twice Upon a Time, while I thought David Bradley did a remarkably good job of bringing William Hartnell’s first Dr Who to life, when he and Capaldi were on screen together it was as though they were on two different sound stages. There was no chemistry between them. The spoke around, about and at each other, but never really to each other. There was no humor and no real conversation. We never get to find out what either thinks of the other. Not a flaw with the actors but, I think, with the script.

This all being said, "mediocre" Dr Who is much like "mediocre" Star Trek, or "so-so" fudge. It’s better than no Dr Who at all and often far better than much of what passed for "good" stuff elsewhere.

The only other major qualm I had about this episode was the apparently obligatory insistence on shoe horning in a reference to the lifestyle Bill leads which is totally inappropriate for what at its heart was intended to be a child’s show.

SUMMARY:

If you want to watch Dr Who by all means. But I would recommend you start with the Christopher Eccleston reboot in 2005 and work your way through in order.

FYI – Tennant is my favorite but Smith has some brilliant ones.

Twice Upon a Time requires some knowledge of Dr Who or much of what is shown will be lost on you.

The best of the reboot Dr Who "stand alones," or at least ones which could be watched with a minimal knowledge of the show and characters, were:

Vincent

Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead

Blink

Father’s Day

Listen

So until the next Fathom special Dr Who event – it was FANTASTIC! GERONIMO! and ALLONS-Y!